Play Dirty
Directed byAndre DeToth
Screenplay byMelvyn Bragg
Lotte Colin
Story byGeorge Marton
Produced byHarry Saltzman[1]
StarringMichael Caine
Nigel Davenport
Nigel Green
Harry Andrews
Aly Ben Ayed
Vivian Pickles
CinematographyEdward Scaife
Edited byJack Slade
Alan Osbiston (uncredited)
Music byMichel Legrand
Lowndes Productions Limited
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
2 January 1969 (United Kingdom)
15 January 1969 (United States)
Running time
117 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

Play Dirty is a 1969 British war film starring Michael Caine,[2] Nigel Davenport, Nigel Green and Harry Andrews. It was director Andre DeToth's last film, based on a screenplay by Melvyn Bragg and Lotte Colin.[3]

The film's story is inspired by the exploits of units such as the Long Range Desert Group, Popski's Private Army and the SAS in North Africa during the Second World War.


During the North African Campaign in the Second World War, Captain Douglas (Michael Caine) is a British Petroleum employee seconded to the Royal Engineers to oversee incoming fuel supplies for the British Eighth Army. Colonel Masters (Nigel Green) commands a special raiding unit composed of convicted criminals, and after a string of failures he is told by his commander, Brigadier Blore (Harry Andrews), that he must have a regular officer to lead a dangerous last-chance mission to destroy an Afrika Korps fuel depot, otherwise his unit will be disbanded. Despite Douglas's objections, he is chosen for his knowledge of oil pipelines and infrastructure. Douglas is then introduced to Cyril Leech (Nigel Davenport), a convicted criminal rescued from prison to lead Masters' operations in the field.

The next day, Douglas and Leech are provided with armed jeeps and lead six other men out into the desert disguised as an Italian Army patrol. They endure a long and arduous trek across the desert: encountering hostile tribesmen, sandstorms and a booby-trapped oasis, among other dangers. Unknown to Masters, Blore has sent a regular army raiding party overloaded in wheeled trucks with the same objective 2 days behind Masters, but they are wiped out in a tracked vehicle German ambush. While Leech and his men are often insubordinate towards Douglas's command, they eventually reach their objective, only to discover that the depot is fake.

Due to an injured man who needs medical care, Douglas captures a German ambulance in which they discover a German nurse, who is forced to tend to the injured man. The men eventually try to rape the nurse but are prevented from doing so. They then head to a German-occupied port city, hoping to steal a boat and escape; Douglas sees the fuel depot there and convinces Leech that destroying it would aid their plan. Meanwhile, Masters is confronted by Blore with aerial photographs of the supposed depot intact — confirming the mission's failure. Having lost contact with the men for some time, Masters is ordered to leak intelligence on the team to the Germans; the British Army is now on the offensive, and it wishes to keep any enemy fuel depots intact for capture.

Under the cover of night, the men don German uniforms and sneak into the port depot to plant their explosives, but one of them sets off a trip flare and they are quickly surrounded; an officer on a loudspeaker calls each of them out by name, revealing Masters' betrayal. The men scatter as the depot is detonated; Leech and Douglas manage to slip away, while the rest are caught and killed. After taking shelter, Leech admits to Douglas that he is being kept alive only because Masters is paying him £2000 for his safe return.

The Eighth Army arrives the next morning; Douglas and Leech (still wearing their German uniforms) decide to surrender to the British. Unfortunately, a trigger-happy British soldier opens fire, killing them before they have a chance to speak.




The film was originally titled Written in the Sand;[4] it was announced in October 1967 with Michael Caine to star and René Clément to direct.[5] Caine later said he made the film because of his relationship with producer Harry Saltzman and the fact he wanted to work with Clément.[6]

The film was also known as Deadly Patrol.[7]

In February 1968 Richard Harris and Nigel Davenport signed to co-star, by which time the film had been re-named Play Dirty.[8][9] However Richard Harris ultimately did not appear in the film.

According to Andre DeToth, Lotte Colin did hardly any of the screenplay despite being credited. She was Saltzman's mother-in-law.[10]


The film was originally planned by Saltzman to be filmed in Israel. Saltzman asked Andre DeToth to scout the country for locations.[11] De Toth said Clément wanted to film in Morocco or Algeria, but Saltzman refused to go to North Africa, and Clément refused to go to Israel. The film ended up being shot on location in the Tabernas Desert near Tabernas in Almería, Spain.[12]

Richard Harris left his home in London for Spain on 16 February 1968. He said he was handed a script which was different from the one he had agreed to do when he signed on. He quit the film and sued the producers for payment of his salary, which was a reported £150,000.[8]

After Nigel Davenport replaced Harris, and Nigel Green replaced Davenport, René Clément resigned as director, and executive producer André DeToth took over directing the film.[13] DeToth said Clément "wanted to make a 'poetry of war'" while Saltzman "wanted blazing guns and roaring tanks".[14]

Several other films were shooting in Almería at the same time, including Shalako. Caine later said, "There are six sand dunes in Almeria... We'd all come round the hill chasing Rommel's tanks - and there's horse shit all over the desert and a stagecoach in the other directions being chased by Indians. The other film units were forever wiping out tank tracks to get their westerns and we were forever shovelling up horse shit and wiping out hoof prints to get our El Alamein." Caine later said he had a clause in his contracts that any film on which he worked could not be made in Almería. "It was that bad".[15][16]

DeToth later said that in making the film, "I wanted to rub our noses in the mess we have created and how we shy away from our ability to clean it up... I wanted to disturb, to open closed eyes and scramble brains."[17]


A novelization was published by Pan Books by Zeno the "pen name" of "Gerald Lamarque" who has also used the name "Kenneth Sidney Allerton".[citation needed]

Lamarque adopted the name "Allerton" in 1940 on "jumping ship" in Ireland. He made his way to Belfast and enlisted in the army. "Val" as he was more familiarly known to his friends in the 21st Ind Co is reputed to have been serving with an Irish Regiment when war was declared. He returned to his native England as soon as possible and enlisted in the Buffs.

A first-class Soldier and NCO, he very soon reached the rank of Sergeant and volunteered for the Parachute Regiment. In 1943 he was selected for the 21st Independent Parachute Company in that rank and was posted to No.2 Platoon as Platoon Sergeant, subsequently serving with the Company in N. Africa, Italy and Holland. Back in the UK on 12 April 1944, No.2 Platoon took part in exercise 'Tony' with the 1st Parachute Brigade. Val was caught up under the aircraft and was eventually rescued after hanging for 45 minutes by one leg. For most of the time it appeared likely that he would either have to take his chance on landing still hanging from the aircraft or have his strop cut over the sea and risk being picked up alive. He was eventually hauled back into the aircraft after much buffeting and pain, but was his usual ebullient self within minutes of being rescued. Shortly after landing and being passed OK by the Medical Officer, when asked by the OC if he would be prepared to continue jumping, he offered to go up again there and then! Such was the measure of the man - it was little wonder that the men in his Platoon looked up to him. He wrote the story of this incident and the Daily Mirror accepted it for publication, but D-Day intervened and it never actually appeared in print in this paper.

Val was still with the Company at Arnhem, where he fought with distinction, often taking complete charge of the Platoon and ignoring enemy fire to look after his 'lads'. He suffered a slight wound in his foot, which he laughed off after makeshift surgery and dressing. Much to his Platoon's disgust, he was commissioned in the field shortly after the Company's return to the UK and was posted to 3rd Parachute Battalion. He was demobilized in the rank of Major after peacetime overseas service.

Nothing was heard of Val after the War until his best friend in the 21st, Sergeant Joe Smith of No.3 Platoon, probably the only person who knew he was serving under an assumed name, read in the newspaper that Gerald Lamarque was serving a life sentence for murder at Wormwood Scrubs Prison. In 1959 Lamarque had killed his former girlfriend's boss who was sexually pestering her. Immediately after this deed he had given himself up to the police. He pleaded guilty and was quite prepared to accept capital punishment. Hanging was abolished, however, before he came to trial and he was sentenced to life imprisonment. In prison he started to write and submitted the story he had written for the Daily Mirror for entry in the Arthur Koestler Awards Competition. Originally placed second, his story was awarded first prize when it was discovered that the winner has already had his entry published in America. The story was published in an annual anthology of stories called 'Winter's Tales'.

Thus encouraged, Val settled down to write "The Cauldron", which was widely acclaimed on publication. He followed this with another book "Life", an account of his years spent in prison which became required reading by students of Sociology and may still be recommended reading for this subject.

He was released after 9 years for his good behaviour.

He continued as "Zeno", writing "Grab", "The Four Sergeants" (which again utilised his experiences with the Company) and the book of the film 'Play Dirty'. Gerald Lamarque or Kenneth Sidney "Val" Allerton/Zeno died on 28 October 1978.

This information was found on


The film was a box office disappointment.[18]


  1. ^ Matt Green (9 February 2015). Michael Caine - Biography Series. pp. 17–. ISBN 978-1-312-90478-1.
  2. ^ Anne Billson, "Is Michael Caine Britain's most important film star?", The Telegraph, 12 November 2014.
  3. ^ "Play Dirty". review by Fred Camper, Chicago Reader, 23 October 1997.
  4. ^ Some sources mistakenly identify the original title as Written on the Sand.
  5. ^ "MOVIE CALL SHEET: Robert Shaw Cast in 'Party'". Martin, Betty; Los Angeles Times, 17 October 1967: c14.
  6. ^ Caine, Michael (2010). The Elephant to Hollywood. Henry Holt and Co. p. 110.
  7. ^ Slide p 155
  8. ^ a b "Richard Harris to sue film producers". Our London Staff; The Irish Times, 27 February 1968: 4.
  9. ^ "MOVIE CALL SHEET: Cobb to Produce 'Ceferino'". Martin, Betty; Los Angeles Times, 17 February 1968: 17.
  10. ^ Slide, p 157
  11. ^ Slide, Anthony. de Toth on de Toth, Faber and Faber, 2011; p 152
  12. ^ Robert Cettl (4 July 2015). King of the Turkeys: Michael Caine in America. Wider Screenings TM. pp. 7–. ISBN 978-0-9873785-1-4.
  13. ^ "Play Dirty". Filmfacts. 12: 90.
  14. ^ Slide p 152
  15. ^ Hall, William (1982). Raising Caine: the authorized biography. p. 129.
  16. ^ Simmons, Bob & Passingham, Kenneth. Nobody Does It Better: My 25 Years of Stunts With James Bond and Other Stories, 1987, Blandford
  17. ^ Slide, p 155
  18. ^ Balio, Tino (1987). United Artists: the company that changed the film industry. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 314.